As you read this I am likely in Glacier National Park, Montana. That section of the Rockies is one of my favorite places on earth. The beauty of mountains carved over eons by the glaciers of a long forgotten ice age is a wide canvass that is simply breathtaking. Everywhere one looks, the view is spectacular. Animals, like marmots, bears, mountain goats, moose, mule deer and others fill the lush landscape and call this place home. While on the way to the highline trail in Glacier on our last trip to Montana in 2009, my father-in-law, brother-in law and I even saw the rare mountain lion – which stopped to growl at the moving vehicle, but darted off before our cameras were ready. I can still see the impressive muscles in her jaw line. As a group we have run across many bears over the several trips we have taken. The trick is to make lots of noise as to not startle them, or get too close to any cubs. Bears really don’t want to interact with humans and will get out-of-the-way. Its bad human behavior, like getting too close, feeding them, or leaving edibles out that get bears into trouble. They are truly remarkable when viewed from a safe distance. A fun activity after the return from a hike is sitting on the porch and looking for animals on the mountainside with binoculars. In some places park rangers even have viewfinders set-up to share what they’ve located. This will be my sixth trip to Montana, and every time I go I feel more connected to the land, to the earth, and to the creator of it all. I love sitting by a stream and skipping rocks into it. I love the pure sense of size of the topography and my small place in it. I love that it is a place not defined by human buildings, but by intentional conservation. But there are human wonders there too. The lodges built almost a century ago serve as giant cathedrals with tall log columns and mounted heads of game of a bygone era. The Going to the Sun Road built during the depression is a marvel of engineering through the very heart of those mountains twisting and turning with spectacular views inaccessible otherwise. No one would build these today because of the sheer cost and political red tape; but they are part of Glacier’s story, along with those who fought to preserve it. The Blackfeet nation have called this land sacred long before “America” or the “United States” were in our lexicon or even a whisper in someone’s ear. Many have stood in beneath these mountains and gazed in wonder. I am thankful for them for shaping this place too, and hope to stand among them.
Beneath this beauty, it is always with my loved ones on the trip that I feel the most connected. This will be Joe’s third trip, and Mia’s second. Joe first visited Montana when he was a one year old and again when he was six. Mia was almost four years old last time. Now its five years later and the kids are eleven and almost nine. Our nieces and nephews who used to come on these trips were those ages at Glacier once, and now they are all becoming young adults in their late teens and early twenties. I was twenty on my first trip to Glacier National Park. Under these mountains that feel almost eternal, there is an almost timeless sense of being there. Of course it is a matter of perspective; the mountains are changing all the time. The seasons change, the generations of wildlife turn over, and the glaciers that once filled the valleys tens of thousands of years ago are all but gone. Even the glaciers that gave Glacier National Park its name in 1910 recede more every year and may become a memory, but we will still visit. I hope others do too. The story continues to be written not just in stone by water and ice but by the people who are etched in its memory.
There is a metaphor at work here to think about the church and the sense of timelessness our community shaped by God provides. There is an eternal quality to liturgy, scripture and the sacraments. The sacred spaces we have created over the centuries to give glory to God have sustained us through many changes: the generations change; the context changes; the culture changes; the language changes; the communities in which we are located change. The way we shape what we do and how we do it changes in order to connect a timeless message of forgiveness, hope and peace into the real world today. We adapt to cut through our sin and brokenness like a sharp blade so we can be poignant with good news to share. Yet it is the gradual pushing over time like a glacier that carves the landscape of our lives over time. It is important to take the long-view as we address immediate concerns, and it is hard to do that in our frantic, busy, result-driven lives.
Places like the mountains are important because they force us to gain a wider perspective. Maybe it is the ocean, or a lake, or forest, or a desert that does this work on you. Wherever that place is for you – I hope you not only seek, but also find. We need moments where we look over the mountain to catch a glimpse of the Promised Land like Moses did, or to run back down it from the empty tomb like the women shouting, “Christ is risen indeed!” If we can catch places to see ourselves against eternity, maybe our problems won’t seem so big. Maybe our challenges can seem solvable, and maybe we won’t think more of ourselves than we ought to do. Maybe we can start to see that when Jesus said, “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle,” (Matt 17:20 – The Message), we would also take notice that the way mountains move is one rock at a time. That is how glaciers do it.
Maybe our calling is nothing more than picking up one rock at a time, knowing that it will eventually move that mountain. If we can pick those rocks up one at a time and skip them across the water, we may even enjoy our place in this world as we do so.
God, brilliant Lord, yours is a household name. Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; toddlers shout the songs that drown out enemy talk, and silence atheist babble. I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way? Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods, bright with Eden’s dawn light. You put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge, Made us lords of sheep and cattle, even animals out in the wild, Birds flying and fish swimming, whales singing in the ocean deeps. God, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world. (Psalm 8- The Message)